Move your feet to the Bollywood beat

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 August, 2008, 12:00am

First come the dulcimer beats. Then more layers of rhythm before female vocals reach a crescendo and the room seems to sway with lines of dancers bobbing their heads and waving arms.

The term 'Bollywood dance' brings to mind one of the latest exercise and dance trends to sweep Hong Kong. But dance instructor Janaki Nakka - who defines herself as the 'Oasis Bollywood Diva' - at the Oasis Dance Centre in Hong Kong, describes it a little differently.

'[Bollywood dance] fuses the classical and folk dances of India with hip-hop and modern dance styles,' she said. 'Depending on the music, some Bollywood dances may veer towards the classical, while some are almost purely hip-hop with very few Indian dance elements in it.'

The dance style, according to Ms Nakka, can even derive from other western influences such as jazz, rock 'n' roll, modern and Latin dance.

Bollywood dance has gained in popularity in Hong Kong over the years, and a number of dance or fitness centres fit it into their programmes at different times of the year.

Although these dance classes are often offered alongside traditional fitness classes of aerobics, cardio and core training, they offer more than just an opportunity to burn off calories - they can carry a cultural aspect as well.

Elements of Bollywood films are often brought into class, and the class description provided by Pure Fitness promises that the dancer will 'have fun in the high-energy dance classes where the girl always gets her guy ... like a love story from the most flamboyant Bollywood films'.

Mey Jen Tillyer, the artistic director of Oasis Dance Centre, said that instead of sitting at a desk in a classroom, students could gain an understanding of Middle Eastern culture, language, geography and history 'just by walking into the dance classes'.

People in Hong Kong were a lot different from when she arrived in the city 20 years ago, Ms Tillyer said, in that they had become much more educated and open to experiencing different cultures. Hong Kong locals constitute 90 per cent of the clientele.

She said that local exposure to the Bollywood scene had increased over the years through internet use, yoga centres, movies and even the Canto-pop scene.

Whatever the reason, more people have been asking about Bollywood dance classes, and the clientele at Oasis ranges from teenagers to active 60-year-olds.

Ms Nakka said the psychological benefits of taking the class were that dancing was a mind healer, and that it 'makes [people] feel beautiful and happy'. She said that the most unique aspect of Bollywood dancing was the freedom it allowed.

She said that Bhangra dance, for example, had many rules and defined steps due to being a folk dance. And, while belly dancing was improvisational, its movements still came from a defined dance vocabulary.

According to the instructor, student feedback has been positive on the 'Indian Bollywood Basics with Janaki' class, and she attributes that in part to the level of expression that they can use in the dance.

The Oasis Bollywood Diva expresses herself through her inner dance goddess. 'I take my dancing very seriously,' she said. 'Whenever I dance, I do it like a diva.'